Although the first VIP day at Art Basel was crowded, Anna Gav, on the ground, noted that the crowd was younger, the lack of older (and richer) collectors largely due, as they said in conversation with Anna, to fear of contracting Covid 19, and to the intentional limiting of admissions to maintain social distancing. At VOLTA, the crowd was noticeably slimmer, also due to the location away from Art Basel and the limited shuttles for rides offered accounting for intentional emphasis on limited spending by the fairs. Prices of work sold so far at both VOLTA and Art Basel are considerably down, reflecting the absence of major, older collectors and the lower pricing by galleries eager to sell work that they could not at galleries closed due to pandemic restrictions.
Due to the wonders of technology, particularly the internet, online, I’ve been able to view the exhibits at the art fairs in Basel, Art Basel, VOLTA and Liste while Anna Gav views them on the ground in Basel for Artscope. Whereas the excitement of being in the crowd is absent for me, my experience of the art displayed is satisfying, due to my knowledge of the work of artists whose work is shown at the fairs, as may be the case for many others who are not physically present at the art fairs. With online viewing rooms providing me a great view of the fair, the caveat is my familiarity with the artists and work presented. It is therefore important for those who are going to the fairs virtually to familiarize themselves with the work of the artists shown at the physical fair and online, making the digital experience more than a browsing journey, but rather an art-historical ride through an artists’ oeuvre. That can only benefit the artists as viewers understand their trajectory throughout their career and see how the pandemic has altered their practice.
Having followed Olafur Eliasson’s work for years, I can well imagine the turning of the LED forms in “Olurivese Assembly,” 2021, and its study of light and lyrical possibilities” as noted in the literature by Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York, at whose booth in Unlimited at Art Basel the work is featured. It draws on the light and forms presented in 2016 at Eliasson’s exhibition at the Chateau and gardens at Versailles, which Nancy saw and reviewed.
Similarly, Urs Fischer’s (Untitled) Bread House is similar to older work by Urs Fischer and references the Hansel and Gretel story, in its bread house in the woods that is eaten every day, and the bread replaced. This brings the social realm into the art world as the economics of replacing bread each day due to its demise speaks to the issue of hunger and who gets fed (or vaccinated) in our world, also reflecting a trend toward illustrating in creative ways, fairy tales. It is this escapist trend, into the fairytale world, or the natural world that is most prominent in the artwork at the fairs, reflecting all our desires to escape to a different world.
Ana Mendieta’s 1978 film, “Silueta de Arena,” at Galerie Lelong’s (New York and Paris) booth refers to “all deities, water, earth, air” bringing the politics of environmentalism to Art Basel, but also celebrating that natural world, and referencing Mendieta’s earlier work.
Ursula Von Rysingsvaard’s great tree in the middle of Galerie Lelong’s booth at Unlimited, Art Basel, speaks to the centrality of nature and great trees, but also to the dominance of real nature versus technological imitations, whether 2- or 3-D, and shelters all those who seek its shelter. I can well imagine the massive tree having seen Ursula Von Rysingvaard’s solo exhibition encompassing tree forms at the National Museum of Women in the Arts before the pandemic began. I remember the feeling of walking through an enchanted forest, which she in this exhibition of a tree again engenders, fulfilling the fairy-tale aspect of the fair noted above.
Combining biblical stories with environmentalism is Keith Tyson’s “Eve in the Garden,” 2021, acrylic and oil on canvas, at Hauser and Wirth’s booth at the Unlimited sector. Great trees, “Eve in the Garden,” “Bread Houses” and celebrations of water, earth and air all provide escapist fantasies that we would all like to believe in and escape to, proving that art can transport us to new worlds and show us new possibilities when we need them most.
Louise Bourgeois’ hanging aluminum suspended work, “The Couple,” 2003, at Galeries Karsten-Greve, St. Moritz, instills longing for the embrace long missed during Covid and refers back to “Eve in the Garden,” another coupling that produced dire results for mankind. Who knows what Bourgeois’ couple might instigate?
We know the life of Hilary Pecis as she has allowed us entrance. Again, the impact of the Pandemic, not allowing visitors to studios and homes has here resulted in Pecis’ depiction for us of her studio and herself in it. The domestic still lives and landscapes of Hilary Pecis shown in photographs, at Art Basel and online, surrounding the artist, not only directly refer to her stance in her studio-home but also show the dimensional relation of her work to that room, an important feature missing from online presence.
I do miss the wonder of Olafur Eliasson’s work creeping up on me in person as I wander in the booth, and the colossal presence of Ursula Von Rysingsvaard’s tree at Galerie Lelong’s booth. I especially miss viewing the sudden exposure of David Shrigley’s “Giant Worm,” as I keep thinking about “The Hungry Caterpillar” children’s book, as I travel. Technology has allowed me, and thousands more, to be part of the art community discovering new and older work at Art Basel, and I thank the developers of excellent online tools, including those working with Volta and Art Basel and all the galleries, for that.